Oddly unsung in Britain despite it's status as James Brown's bestselling record, 'Live at Apollo' disappoints only in it's sub-40 minute running time. Recorded when he was a raw talent, rather than an established name, the record showcases his phenomenal voice perfectly. Like Sam Cooke's 'Live at Harlem Sq. Club' (which is even better), the singer is shown in context- not softened by studio production, but in his element- giving it his all in front of a notoriously difficult audience, which he soon wins over. Fats Gonder's oft-parodied and/or homaged introduction is wisely included, and the first three numbers sound great. It is with 'Lost Someone', though, that James Brown finds his voice. "I feel so I good I wanna scream!", he shouts, "I feel just like I wanna scream!". "Go ahead and scream!", comes the reply.
And in that moment James Brown moved from flavour-of-the-month to soul legend. The record met with extraordinary success in America, in both critical and commercial terms, and was lauded by Britain's New Musical Express, some thirty years on, as the '30th Greatest Record of All Time'. Strange then, that few supposed soul afficionados I've spoken to are aware of this record's existence, let alone it's genius. When 'Live at Apollo' was recorded, James Brown was a man at the peak of his powers, if not of his public recognition- and it shows. If 'Night Train' is a slightly low-key closer, the medley which precedes it more than compensates- a lust-filled, yearning, aching nine-minute medley of rare quality. One of THE great soul records, a priceless artefact, and for many, an undiscovered gem.